THURSDAY, Feb. 22, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- What's the health buzz on honey?
If you're looking for the best choice, consider darker-colored "honeydew" varieties from bees who collect the sugary secretions that insects leave on plants, otherwise known as honeydew.
According to a new study of Spanish varieties, honeydew honey has even higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants than the honey that bees make from nectar.
But all honey, regardless of its origins, is good for you, the experts said.
"Besides its value as a great sweetening agent, honey has proved that it also has effective antioxidant and antibacterial activities," said study co-author Rosa Ana Perez, a researcher with the Instituto Madrileno de Investigacion y Desarrollo Rural, Agrario y Alimentario in Madrid.
In recent years, honey has gained a reputation as a health food, especially in light of research suggesting that it has germ-fighting powers and is high in antioxidants, chemicals that appear to block certain types of cell damage caused by molecules called free radicals.
"There is increasing evidence that free radicals contribute to the development of diseases, such as neurodegenerative disease, chronic inflammatory disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease and aging," Perez said.
In 2004, U.S. researchers found that antioxidant levels rose in people who ate between four and 10 tablespoons of honey per day, depending on their weight. It wasn't clear at the time, however, which varieties of honey might harbor the most antioxidants.
In the new study, researchers looked at 36 varieties of Spanish honey in two groups -- clover honey, made by bees from the nectar of flower blossoms, and honeydew honey, made by bees from a sweet, sticky substance secreted by insects such as aphids that live off plants.
Honeydew honey is only produced in a few parts of the world and is considered a delicacy in certain regions.
The researchers performed tests on the honeys and reported their findings in the February issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
According to the results, honeydew honeys had higher levels of antioxidants in general. The researchers also report that Spanish honeydew honeys tend to be darker and more acidic than clover varieties.
Perez said honeydew honey from outside of Spain should also show similar signs of higher levels of antioxidants. Honeydew honey is relatively rare in the United States.
Should people eat a lot more honey? "An adequate diet rich in natural antioxidants: fruit, vegetables, olive oil, wine, honey, among others, could prevent some disease," according to Perez.
But she added that consumers should be careful, because honey is also full of carbohydrates -- it's about 80 percent sugar -- and it "must be incorporated into diet in a balanced manner, both quantitatively and in relation to the other foodstuffs."
Finally, she said, honey is not a miracle food. "I don't think that a foodstuff on its own could allow the improvement of the health of anyone, or even prevent some disease," Perez said.
To learn more about antioxidants, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.